Today, LinkedIn has become the de facto marketplace for sharing one’s professional achievements. While profiles can seem extra-ordinary on paper, one has to invest time in building lasting relationships. Networking, as a means to ‘put oneself out there’ remains the most terrifying proposition for professionals – fresh graduates or experienced alike. So how does one become an ace networker?
Prepare that Elevator Pitch
No matter at what stage one is in their career, one should be able to summarise their profile within 30-45 seconds i.e. the time it takes to ride an elevator. This summary need not be as exhaustive as a contractual ‘Terms and Conditions’. Rather, it should peak the listener’s interest and display confidence in who you are. Remember, the aim is to leave the audience wanting to know more about you, even after the elevator ride is over.
Set realistic expectations
Networking is a continuous learning process. As there is a possibility of meeting professionals from various domains and experiences within a networking event, one has to prepare themselves for numerous permutations and combinations. It is a time-consuming process and will not necessarily bear results right away. Early on, one will do great by setting realistic goals and not losing heart in a couple of events itself.
Dress for the occasion
At a networking event, everyone is sizing up everyone. In such a scenario, it is highly recommended to dress for the occasion – one can enquire from the hosts about the dress code. Having attended many networking events myself, I have noticed that a few people stand out for their dressing sense and related mannerisms. These professionals have an aura around them that intrigues the audience. Some may find these individuals approachable for a chat while others would be aching for an introduction. Do ensure to wear footwear that is presentable and comfortable.
Meet the organiser
It is common protocol to introduce oneself to the organisers of any event. For some it could be a way of ‘marking one’s attendance’. Hosts are generally aware of every attendee and tend to invite relevant individuals only. While greeting them, it is advisable to put in a word whether you are expecting an introduction with somebody specific at the event.
Remember the names
While exchanging business cards remains a standard norm at any networking event, one should make an effort to remember the names of individuals with whom they interact. Remembering names, enquiring about their roles and calling out to introduce them to a relevant individual not only makes them feel important but also helps build a great impression.
I have often witnessed individuals dispensing off their business cards without really taking interests in the recipients. While ‘more the merrier’ sounds good, do remember that your Business Card is your personal brand. Relevant interactions with a select few gives the opportunity for them to remember you. As a result, one has a greater probability of ushering in newer relationships. Compare this approach with the robotic distribution of one’s business cards, which will give temporary satisfaction about meeting more people but not bring remembered by any of them.
“Why should anyone care?” is an apt question to prepare for. While it is accepted that one cannot change their profiles overnight, a l’il self-inspection will help to zero in upon one’s strengths and offerings. This shall not only breathe much required confidence into oneself but is also a good starting point for improvement. During interactions with professionals, one must be sincere in offering to introduce them to their contacts (if relevant). This will set the ball rolling for them to return the favour whenever possible. One could share reading material relevant to their fields of expertise, as this can be a prelude for further discussions.
Overpromising and under-delivering
Be realistic. Accept that there are professionals with a greater reach and better network than you have. It is advisable to learn from their experiences rather than boasting about one’s non-existent influences. One does not necessarily have to inflate their reach in order to impress people at a networking event. You would be digging a hole for yourself. Under-delivering is frowned upon and does not create a favourable impression on individuals who may be your colleagues/clients/vendors in near future.
I have often met marketing professionals who have a unique-shaped business card, which they use as an ice-breaker to explain the philosophy of their organisation. What better way to be memorable, right? Everyone wants to leave an impression. Decide and work up the one take-home aspect about your profile, which you would want for people to remember.
It is important to nurture the relations initiated during networking events. One of the easiest way to ensure this is by following up on every discussion you had during the event. Through my experiences, I have noticed that barely 20 percent of the professionals follow-up post an event. One should want to be part of this smaller band. Following up can be used as a mode to recap not only on one’s discussions but also as an opportunity to speak about one’s company or any other relevant topics which could not be discussed during the networking event. If one is not inclined to nourish such relationships then why attend the events in the first place?
In order to be a great networker, one has to have patience along with the discipline to learn on-the-go. It is necessary not to try too hard while resisting the lethargy of ‘not trying at all’.
Nilesh Gaikwad is Country Manager at EDHEC Business School, France and can be reached at .